ATRA: Ohioans have strong opinions about AG's office

John O'Brien Apr. 23, 2007, 4:00pm


WASHINGTON, D.C. - In releasing its Ohio results from a recently conducted survey on the transparency of five state attorneys' general offices, the American Tort Reform Association said the state should make its tough laws a little tougher.

"Ohio has strong public disclosure laws, but they don't require the attorney general to disclose why certain personal injury lawyers receive contracts or if the taxpayers are getting the best deal in the same way that competitive bidding requires," ATRA President Tiger Joyce said. "Our survey reveals that Ohioans have strong opinions on these issues and expect transparency and accountability from the AG."

That AG is Marc Dann, targeted for the survey because, the ATRA says, he is new to the job. He also didn't win any support from the organization by recently filing a lawsuit against paint companies that once manufactured lead paint, outlawed in 1978.

Motley Rice, a plaintiffs firm based in South Carolina, came up with the idea to make a public nuisance claim against the companies instead of a products liability claim, negating several products liability defenses that don't apply to nuisance claims.

The firm took the idea to Rhode Island, where it has been successful against three companies and is being appealed to the state Supreme Court. Dann filed the second state-powered lawsuit, while several other municipalities, like St. Louis, have also filed similar suits.

"Frequently enough, such litigation seeks public policy ends that could not be achieved through democratic legislative and regulatory processes," Joyce said. "But sometimes these lawsuits appear to be little more than thinly disguised efforts both to boost the media profile of attorneys general and enrich their political friends.

"This litigation poses a considerable threat to constitutional democracy and state economies, so it's not surprising that Ohioans want more scrutiny and oversight."

Below are the full questions and results from Ohio:

-Should the Attorney General publicly disclose all contracts with outside lawyers and make those contracts easily available for public inspection on the Internet? (77% yes, 15% no, 8% don't know);

-Should the Attorney General competitively bid contracts for outside lawyers? (68% yes, 23% no, 9% don't know);

-Should the Attorney General allow the Legislature to review contingency fee contracts with outside lawyers before signing them? (73% yes, 20% no, 6% don't know);

-Should the Attorney General require outside lawyers working on a contingency fee basis to release detailed records of the hours they work and what they do? (87% yes, 11% no, 3% don't know);

-Should the Attorney General allow revenue generated from lawsuit settlements to be treated like all other state revenue and be appropriated by the legislature before it can be spent? (74% yes, 17% no, 9% don't know);

-And would you support the creation of a National Code of Ethics to govern contracts for outside lawyers for state Attorneys General across the country? (78% yes, 18% no, 4% don't know).

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